It’s hard to pinpoint the impact Ed Templeton has had on DIY creative culture. Dividing himself between a variety of artistic crafts, the Toy Machine founder has built a career in socially driven photography, matched with equally as mystic paintings – providing an alternative insight into these subjects. Presenting his work in publications, galleries and brands (distributed) around the world, the self-taught artist bounces from each of these formats with ease, transitioning the cultural simmer of his Huntington Beach setting – onto the world – in any way he sees fit. Fresh from releasing a new photo book – Hairdos of Defiance in London last week, we spoke with the visual all-rounder about his work and the collision of his productive worlds.
Firstly, you seem to split your work between painting and photography, sometimes even a mixture of both. Does one influence the other or do you create them as separate beings throughout any given body of work or single piece?
They have been separate for the most part, but over the last years I have been using my photography more and more as source material for my painting; although I’d like to bring more painting into photography rather than the other way around. For sure, they influence one another.
I think your work has encouraged a lot of young skaters to pick up a brush or camera and create their own art – do you feel that there is a common thread found within artwork made by skateboarders specifically?
Not really, and that’s how it should be. Skateboarding is so diverse and so many people find skateboarding for different reasons that it would be a shame if all the artwork had a certain look that would tell people a skateboarder made it. I think the desire to be creative is embedded in our DNA from birth, and the types of people with strong creativity genes are the ones that find skateboarding. That is why so many skaters are creative. If I helped open a few skaters’ minds into seeing outside of skateboarding and into art, and helped spark their creative juices, then I’m super happy about that. I smile when I hear from people who tell me they got into art or photography from something I did or made in the skate world. I’m just paying back what people like Mark Gonzales, Chris Miller and Neil Blender did for me when I was young.
Your photography primarily focuses on teenagers and young adults – have you noticed any particular social changes in their personalities over the years?
Although I have a particular interest in documenting teenagers and have been doing that especially within the skate community over the years, my photography is primarily street photography and I shoot what is out on the streets – young or old, rich or poor. There has been a massive social change and it’s the fact that everybody carries around a high- powered mini computer in their hands at all times. It has changed street photography for the worse in my opinion; [it’s] very hard to capture people living moments in reality without some connection to the digital world. This shift also represents the shrinking of the world in that what happens in NYC is also happening via social media all over the world, so trends and styles happen globally overnight now as opposed to regionally. It’s been the biggest shift to me.
Do you feel that the idea of everyone having a camera in their pockets (along with social media) has changed the way they behave or become accustomed to the idea of being photographed?
Yes, people are more wary of the camera, because of the potential to be exposed to ridicule on social media instantaneously. And also there are so many photographs being generated every millisecond and shared and digested by the masses that a single photographer diligently documenting a scene somewhere is lost in the ocean of images. This has a democratizing effect in that more people have a chance to be seen, but also makes it much harder for anyone with talent to keep their head above the multitude of work floating around out there. Like the income gap is ever widening between the rich and the poor, the same goes in whatever world you can name, art, skate, photo. The people with means will use them to get ahead and the ones without, however talented with be left behind. This is depressing, but really all any artist needs to do is plug away on his/her work. Keep making steps. If you are driven to make work, then just keep laying it down and moving on. I believe anyone who seriously is making work because it pours out of them will be recognized at some point, however long it may take.
You’ve just released a new photo book – Hairdos of Defiance, can you tell us a little bit about the project and how it all came together?
As I travelled around as a skateboarder and went around shooting street photos, if I saw someone with a mohawk, I felt myself drawn to them naturally. The photos go back to ’97 or ’98. At some point, I realized there was a series brewing there that snuck up on me. For the last few years, I would make a point to try to get a portrait if I saw someone. I think the title was the main drive. The term was something a friend and I would say when we saw kids with mohawks. It was like, ‘Hey, there’s a hairdo of defiance. There’s an emblem of nonconformity.’
Expression via hairstyle is still quite prominent today, whether it be by length, color or cultural standings, why do you think people emphasize on this to express themselves so directly to others?
Hair is just another thing that can make a person unique, like clothes or makeup, so naturally it is used by some to very dramatic effect: to make a statement, to be seen, to say “fuck you.” In my case, I’ve never been brave enough to do anything weird with my hair. That might be why I found myself gravitating to these people with crazy hair; I’m in awe of them.
You’re going to be a part of a RVCA Artist Network Program group show here in Melbourne this week – No Days Off, can you tell us about what you will have on display for the show?
I have sent down a few photos from my years documenting the skateboard subculture. One photo is of skater Scotty Copalman after he shaved a mohawk and was walking around on my suburban street. I just liked the way he looked out of place in the sanitized suburbia. Another is of Austin Stephens smoking in an alleyway in Chicago one night after we ate at a diner. Just one of those moments where the light was very dark and eerie and wasn’t even sure what the camera was going to pick up. The third is of pro skaters Andrew Reynolds and Geoff Rowley sitting at a table in Utah. Photographer Atiba Jefferson’s hand is in the frame too. We went on a tour together for the hell of it and had a great time skating across the country and getting into adventures – I think this photo captures that spirit.